Detachment is a powerful psychological and spiritual process that is discussed in many modern day psychological treatments. Much of this comes from Buddhism’s huge modern influence in Psychology. Surely, there is much to gain from an understanding of detachment.
Detachment and receiving are the subject of this entry, which continues a series I started a few weeks ago on Christian mysticism, based on Frederick Bauerschmidt’s book, “Why the Mystics Matter Now.” The chapter begins with a passage from Eckhart’s “Counsels on Discernment:”
“A man ought not to have a God who is just the product of his thought, nor should he be satisfied with that, because if the thought vanished, God too would vanish. But one ought to have a God who is present, a God who is far above the notions of men and of all created things. That God does not vanish, if a man does not willfully turn away from him.”
Bauerschmidt reflects more on this:
“We must not simply detach ourselves from excessive concern for worldly things, nor from selfish desires, but we must even detach ourselves from the god we construct. This is the meaning of Eckhart’s puzzling statement, ‘I pray to God that he may make me free of ‘God.'”
C. S. Lewis writes something very similar in his book, “The Screwtape Letters.” Writing on the behalf of a senior demon instructing his protege on how to win souls, Lewis writes:
“. . . turn their gaze away from Him towards themselves. Keep them watching their own minds and trying to produce feelings there by the action of their own wills. When they meant to ask Him for charity, let them, instead, start trying to manufacture charitable feelings for themselves and not notice that this is what they are doing. When they meant to pray for courage, let them really be trying to feel brave. When they say they are praying for forgiveness, let them be trying to feel forgiven. Teach them to estimate the value of each prayer by their success in producing the desired feeling.”
The central idea here then seems to be that we often may get in the way of a real relationship with God by deluding ourselves. Instead of connecting with God, we connect with a higher part of ourselves, and believe the two are the same. In this way, many people are trapped in an illusion of self-sufficiency. There many be many long-term consequences of this kind of self-preoccupation, including internal rumination and a decreased ability to sacrifice for the benefit of others, as often is required in close relationships and families. I certainly sometimes feel that I am caught in this trap. I pray, but I often feel my main motivation is to feel good or to connect with something in myself.
Meister Eckhart’s answer to this vexing problem is to emphasize that humans are not primary, that we are not intended to be our own sources of life. Instead, he believed, humans are intended first to be receivers. If we are humble enough to recognize this, perhaps we can overcome our illusion of self-sufficiency enough to reach out to a real God who really is waiting to meet our deepest needs.
Much of this may require discipline and time. To conclude, as Meister Eckhart stated:
“. . . a man must be penetrated with the divine presence, and be shaped through and through with the shape of the God he loves, and be present in him, so that God’s presence may shine out to him without any effort.”